Samuel R. Delany’s photograph from Familiar Men will be featured in Jayna Brown’s forthcoming book Black Utopia: Speculative Life and the Music of Otherworlds, to be published by Duke University Press. Brown calls it one of her favorite photographs ever.
The book sounds fascinating – it’s about black and queer alternative worldmaking. She traces black radical utopian practice and performance, from the psychic travels of Sojourner Truth to the cosmic transmissions of Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra. Brown’s first book was Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern, winner of the Errol Hill Book Award from the American Society for Theatre Research and the George Freedley Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association.
Samuel R. Delany is one of the most influential science fiction writers of the last 50 years. He has won four Nebula Awards (given by the Science Fiction Writers of America) and two Hugo Awards (given by science fiction fans), and received a Grand Master award in 2013. He is one of three writers featured by Mark Dery in the article “Black to the Future,” where Dery first coined the term “Afrofuturism.” In his fiction and his nonfiction, he has explored race, gender, sexuality, slavery, economics, and poetry, along with space travel, cyborg implants, and urban living experiments.
Photographing Chip (the nickname Delany uses) was a pleasure and a very shared experience. I think the photograph gives a real sense of him and captures his impressive presence.
I asked him if he’d like to write something for this post about the photograph:
What I remember about the photoshoot is that it was in my fifth-floor apartment, in front of a wall of some of my favorite books. I think they were about music. I remember how easy it all was, which had been prepared through my having done some naked theater with the Charles Stanley Dance Company back in the early ’80s, where myself and another hefty young man had to come out naked on the stage and lift naked dancers, male and female, from one position and set them down again in others. Though we were basically stagehands—I wish I could remember the other young man’s name—there was no distinction made between us and the other dancers, which I liked. About a year ago, Jayna Brown asked me in a email whether I had gotten any of my own inspiration from Charles Fourier. I think of Fourier and his Quagas as very sympathetic images, but my exposure to him was rather indirect—through Barthes’s Sade, Fourier, Loyola, and Guy Davenport, who, in some of his stories, clearly has a warm spot for him. The Barthes was just across the room from where I was sitting when we were taking the photograph, at about the same level as my tit rings. Strange what you remember about books, about photographs.